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The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North… (2012)

by Thomas King

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7214524,054 (4.08)85
In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King offers a deeply knowing, darkly funny, unabashedly opinionated, and utterly unconventional account of Indian-White relations in North America since initial contact. Ranging freely across the centuries and the Canada-U.S. border, King debunks fabricated stories of Indian savagery and White heroism, takes an oblique look at Indians (and cowboys) in film and popular culture, wrestles with the history of Native American resistance and his own experiences as a Native rights activist, and articulates a profound, revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.… (more)
  1. 00
    The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker (PlaidStallion)
    PlaidStallion: From The Blank Slate:

      Anthropologists and historians have also been counting bodies. Many intellectuals tout the small numbers of battlefield casualties in pre-state societies as evidence that primitive warfare is largely ritualistic. They do not notice that two deaths in a band of fifty people is the equivalent of ten million deaths in a country the size of the United States. The archaeologist Lawrence Keeley has summarized the proportion of male deaths caused by war in a number of societies for which data are available…

      The first eight bars, which range from almost 10 percent to almost 60 percent, come from indigenous peoples in South America and New Guinea. The nearly invisible bar at the bottom represents the United States and Europe in the twentieth century and includes the statistics from two world wars. Moreover, Keeley and others have noted that native peoples are dead serious when they carry out warfare. Many of them make weapons as damaging as their technology permits, exterminate their enemies when they can get away with it, and enhance the experience by torturing captives, cutting off trophies, and feasting on enemy flesh.

      Counting societies instead of bodies leads to equally grim figures. In 1978 the anthropologist Carol Ember calculated that 90 percent of hunter-gatherer societies are known to engage in warfare, and 64 percent wage war at least once every two years. Even the 90 percent figure may be an underestimate, because anthropologists often cannot study a tribe long enough to measure outbreaks that occur every decade or so (imagine an anthropologist studying the peaceful Europeans between 1918 and 1938). In 1972 another anthropologist, W. T. Divale, investigated 99 groups of hunter-gatherers from 37 cultures, and found that 68 were at war at the time, 20 had been at war five to twenty-five years before, and all the others reported warfare in the more distant past. Based on these and other ethnographic surveys, Donald Brown includes conflict, rape, revenge, jealousy, dominance, and male coalitional violence as human universals.

      It is, of course, understandable that people are squeamish about acknowledging the violence of pre-state societies. For centuries the stereotype of the savage savage was used as a pretext to wipe out indigenous peoples and steal their lands. But surely it is unnecessary to paint a false picture of a people as peaceable and ecologically conscientious in order to condemn the great crimes against them, as if genocide were wrong only when the victims are nice guys.

      The prevalence of violence in the kinds of environments in which we evolved does not mean that our species has a death wish, an innate thirst for blood, or a territorial imperative. There are good evolutionary reasons for the members of an intelligent species to try to live in peace. Many computer simulations and mathematical models have shown that cooperation pays off in evolutionary terms as long as the cooperators have brains with the right combination of cognitive and emotional faculties. Thus while conflict is a human universal, so is conflict resolution. Together with all their nasty and brutish motives, all peoples display a host of kinder, gentler ones: a sense of morality, justice, and community, an ability to anticipate consequences when choosing how to act, and a love of children, spouses, and friends. Whether a group of people will engage in violence or work for peace depends on which set of motives is engaged…

      Not everyone will be comforted by such reassurances, though, because they eat away at the third cherished assumption of modern intellectual life. Love, will, and conscience are in the traditional job description for the soul and have always been placed in opposition to mere “biological” functions. If those faculties are “biological” too—that is, evolutionary adaptations implemented in the circuitry of the brain—then the ghost is left with even less to do and might as well be pensioned off for good.
    … (more)
  2. 00
    Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown (Cecrow)
  3. 00
    We Were Not the Savages: Collision Between European and Native American Civilizations by Daniel N. Paul (SJaneDoe)

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» See also 85 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
This makes a very hard history easy to read. Thomas King's wonderful black humour doesn't whitewash any of the tragedies but adds poignancy to the absurd errors and deliberate evil of colonialism in North America. ( )
  Phil-James | Oct 1, 2021 |
I learned about this book from a friend, as I was looking for something to read to help me learn more about the indigenous people of Canada.

Oh. My. Goodness.

The author blames, among other things, the arrogant push of Christianity as one of the reasons for the losses of the indigenous people, their land, languages, and so much more. And my description in that last sentence seems woefully understated.

I’m a Christian, so I’m grieved that the teachings of Jesus could end up doing to the indigenous people of North America the full opposite of what I think Jesus intended. But residential schools prove that Christianity (not Jesus' teaching) was a key factor in the horrors enacted toward indie finite people.

King doesn’t spend all his time in the book talking about residential schools. Nor does he spend it complaining, though he could. I learned about the schools, land acknowledgements, treaties, and how it seems to be getting a bit better as we work to address the wrongs we’ve enacted in the past, but there is a lot of work to do.

From The City of Toronto's website, it seems that I live on the “traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples”.

I pray that, as a Christian, I will help to redeem the wrongs that have been done. I may not have been the ones who stole the land and abolished a way of life, but I can be part of the redemption. ( )
  DwaynesBookList | Sep 18, 2021 |
A contemporary look at what happened when Europeans came to North America — and what is still happening as whites continue to take stuff, impose their will and stack the deck against any challenge or conflicting opinion. Some of the bits I marked: "Governments here and around the world also know that fear and poverty can hold an injustice in place in perpetuity, no matter how flagrant, no matter how obscene". ... "You see my problem. The history I offered to forget, the past I offered to burn, turns out to be our present. It may well be our future." While discussing the challenge for North American tribes to determine the "rules" for who is considered a member Indian and who isn't, he observes, "Barriers can create security. Numbers can create strength." And he mentions "an old adage" that I'd never heard before, and that I hope never to forget, "Democracy is more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner." Thank you, to my local library system, for having this book on the shelf; I hope many more people read it. ( )
1 vote ReadMeAnother | May 10, 2021 |
The Inconvenient Indian is about both the history of the indigenous people of North America and how current North American culture views them today. It was a lot of information to fit into one book, but I appreciated the author using humor to break up some of the more serious aspects of the book. I have read a couple of books on Native American history and culture this month. The thing that made this one stand out was his discussion on "living" versus "dead" Indians and "legal" versus "illegal" Indians. It caused me to do a little soul searching on how often I see dead Indians instead of the living. I will definitely be aware of the danger of falling into that line of thinking in the future. That revelation alone makes this book worth reading. ( )
1 vote Cora-R | Apr 13, 2021 |
This is a scathing history of how Indians have been treated in their own land for the past few hundred years, told in the rambling style of an old man sitting by the campfire, with a heaping dose of gallows humor. The humor only barely softens the totally justifiable bitterness King has about how his people have been the victims of sustained and systemic genocide for 500 years.

The book is more or less a history, but King rebels against his colonizer's mode of doing history - the book is not in chronological order and doesn't really cite sources (although he talks about some of his sources enough that it would be easy to track them down) and blends personal anecdotes and humor with historical facts. It is very much told in his voice, and feels like he's sitting right there telling you about his history. It feels very personal. That makes it easy to feel the personal pain that King feels about centuries of broken treaties and blatantly racist policies.

Despite the conversational style and wry humor, this is not an easy read. It will make you angry and sad. It probably ought to be required reading for all white Americans and Canadians. ( )
1 vote Gwendydd | Sep 5, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
The book Canadians are snapping up hardly paints them in a flattering light. King’s tone is breezy and light, full of funny stories and self-deprecating jokes, but just below that geniality lies a deep reservoir of bitterness over the treatment of Indians in Canada and the United States that continues on to this day. White North Americans, he argues, prefer their Indians noble, primitive, and safely extinct, and actual, live Indians who stubbornly insist on their rights as an independent people they regard as at best a troublesome nuisance.
It’s a mistake to expect a scholarly history of Native Americans—though Thomas King certainly has he chops to write it—but what we get instead is something only King could do: an historical and cultural memoir, packed with facts and using narrative as it is best used. ... A bit lighter in tone than Vine Deloria Jr.’s Custer Died for Your Sins, The Inconvenient Indian is also fully rooted in the 21st century, with discussion of contemporary Native American practices and culture.
added by KelMunger | editLit/Rant, Kel Munger (Sep 18, 2013)
The Inconvenient Indian is less an indictment than a reassurance that we can create equality and harmony. A powerful, important book.
Novelist Thomas King describes his brilliantly insightful, peevish book about native people in North America as a “a series of conversations and arguments that I’ve been having with myself and others for most of my adult life.” Making no excuses for the intrusion of his own personal biases and the book’s lack of footnotes, King suggests we view The Inconvenient Indian not as history, but as storytelling “fraught with history.”
added by Nickelini | editQuill and Quire (Nov 1, 2012)
Dr. King’s book should be required reading for anyone seeking insider insight into how Indians have been treated in Canada versus the United States. Born in America and now a distinguished Canadian writer-educator, the author is in a prime position for this undertaking. - See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-...
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I am the Indian.
And the burden
Lies yet with me.

Rita Joe, "Poems of Rita Joe"
For the grandchildren I will not see.
First words
About fifteen years back, a bunch of us got together to form a drum group.
A great many people in North America believe that Canada and the United States, in a moment of inexplicable generosity, gave treaty rights to Native people as a gift. Of course, anyone familiar with the history of Indians in North America knows that Native people paid for every treaty right, and in some cases, paid more than once. The idea that either country gave First Nations something for free is horseshit.
Sorry. I should have been more polite and said "anyone familiar with Native history knows this is in error," or "knows that this is untrue," but, frankly, I'm tired of correcting people. I could have said "bullshit," which is a more standard North American expletive, but, as Sherman Alexie (Spokane-Coeur d'Alene) reminds us in his poem "How to Write the Great American Indian Novel," "real" Indians come from a horse culture. (70)
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In The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King offers a deeply knowing, darkly funny, unabashedly opinionated, and utterly unconventional account of Indian-White relations in North America since initial contact. Ranging freely across the centuries and the Canada-U.S. border, King debunks fabricated stories of Indian savagery and White heroism, takes an oblique look at Indians (and cowboys) in film and popular culture, wrestles with the history of Native American resistance and his own experiences as a Native rights activist, and articulates a profound, revolutionary understanding of the cumulative effects of ever-shifting laws and treaties on Native peoples and lands.

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